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What Is the Difference Between SUBOXONE® and Buprenorphine?

by Nick

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses two main types of medication to help patients manage opioid addiction — methadone and buprenorphine. Buprenorphine increases access to treatment by allowing some patients to take medicine at home and offering different medication options to meet the varying needs of patients struggling with opioid addiction. It can come in the generic form or as SUBOXONE®, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Learn more about buprenorphine and SUBOXONE® and how patients use them for their symptoms.

What Is Buprenorphine?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved buprenorphine for clinical use in 2002. It has a ceiling effect, meaning that its effects stop increasing once the patient reaches a certain amount. Thanks to the ceiling effect, buprenorphine has a limited potential of causing euphoria or being used to get “high”, making misuse less tempting. That ceiling effect also makes it much more difficult to overdose on buprenorphine. Since buprenorphine has a decent safety profile, it may be offered via prescription in some locations or may still require daily clinic visits.

Buprenorphine has a similar level of effectiveness as methadone, but it may suit some patients better than others. Patients with high levels of dependency might benefit more from methadone because it is a full opioid agonist, and may provide more relief as it fully activates the opioid receptors in the brain. However, patients with mild to moderate opioid use disorder symptoms can have more flexibility by taking buprenorphine. Clinic doctors work closely with their patients to find the right type of MAT medication.

While buprenorphine comes in a few different forms, substance abuse treatment facilities use a sublingual form. Sublingual medications go under the tongue to dissolve and provide fast effects.

What Is SUBOXONE®?

SUBOXONE® consists of a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone in a sublingual film. Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids and often finds use as an overdose rescue medication in the form of Narcan®. Narcan can stop the effects of an overdose and save lives. Manufacturers designed SUBOXONE® so the naloxone component only takes effect when the patient misuses their medicine. When taken under the tongue as directed, SUBOXONE® relieves opioid withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, it causes uncomfortable withdrawal effects when the patient injects, snorts or crushes it.

SUBOXONE® vs. Buprenorphine

Since they use the same compound to relieve withdrawal symptoms, standalone buprenorphine and SUBOXONE® have similar effects. Doctors tend to administer or prescribe these medications in specific situations:

  • SUBOXONE®: Clinics usually prescribe SUBOXONE® over buprenorphine when the patient takes their medicine at home. Since SUBOXONE® includes naloxone as a misuse deterrent, it makes at-home treatment safer. MAT programs combine SUBOXONE® treatment with therapy and social services to address multiple aspects of addiction.
  • Buprenorphine: A doctor may administer buprenorphine in their office during the early phases of treatment. After their initial treatment in the clinic, the patient can then take SUBOXONE® at home. Patients who can’t tolerate naloxone may also need to take standalone buprenorphine as their at-home medication.

Every patient has a different experience with opioid use disorder and MAT. As a MAT patient, your doctor will partner with you to find an appropriate medication option.

Learn More About MAT Medications

At Health Care Resource Centers, we help patients with opioid addiction, loved ones and the public learn about MAT. Discover more about buprenorphine medicine or schedule an appointment today by contacting our team online.

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